Practical Tips for Successful Inclusion
The following tips are taken from several district Down syndrome guides that give instructions to their educators about inclusive practices. Many of these don’t address curriculum issues, which we will discuss in a following section.
Remember that inclusion at its heart is a philosophy that encourages children with Down syndrome to have as much participation as he/she can manage in a traditional environment.
- Promote socialization – Do not simply place your student (and his/her aid) in a separate area from other students. If possible, give your special needs student a place within a group of peers. If the Para-educator can be on the perimeter, this will encourage more interaction. An adult automatically changes the dynamic of the interaction.
- Goals– During your student’s IEP meetings, outline academic and non-academic goals for him/her. This way you will be able to see where your curriculum needs to be adjusted for the student.
- Speak directly – You may be tempted to discuss things with the classroom aid accompanying the student, but you must develop a working relationship with him or her directly. Make eye contact and speak right to the student.
- Behavioral expectations – Your classroom rules should be the same for ALL your students. There may be additional guidelines that a Para-educator may have to employ to help a special needs student meet those expectations, but it doesn’t mean you change the rules for one or two of your students.
- Blind spots – Assess your classroom, your district, and yourself. Are there barriers to inclusion that should be dealt with? These aren’t always easy to solve (for example, if your classroom isn’t outfitted properly), but awareness is the first and most important step to solving a problem.
- Use the team – For a student with Down syndrome, you will have a Para-educator in the classroom with you, plus the parents, administrators, and any other special education professionals. Use them! Don’t feel you have to go this alone. Collaboration will help not just you, but your student as well.
- Hearing – Many students with down syndrome suffer from hearing loss. Take note to place him/her in a group that is closest to you during your instruction time.
- Visual aids – In addition to hearing loss, students with down syndrome benefit from visual instruction. Whenever possible, use posters, diagrams, or other visual cues that will help him/her…as well as the rest of the class!
- Visit other schools – If you are just starting out with an inclusive classroom, take some time to visit other places where inclusion is in full swing.
- Use your students – The best teachers for your special needs student are sitting in the desks right before you. Evaluate which student is quickly grasping the material and opt for him/her to help instruct the special needs student. This can be as simple as pairing them together for an activity.